All change again as Mark Trueman and Conor Sellars step down as Bradford City managers

By Jason McKeown (charts by Alex Scott)

Here we go again. Another managerial change at Bradford City, with the news that Mark Trueman and Conor Sellars have been removed from their position as joint managers.

The former under-18s coaches have been offered the chance to return to their previous posts, with the City CEO Ryan Sparks stating, “We feel, at this point, we need more experience to take us forward into the summer and next season which, for us, is a hugely significant one.” Meanwhile their replacement is seemingly already lined up and will be announced shortly.

After overseeing a miserable run of one point from the last seven games, and with the Bantams finishing in their worst league position since 2012, there will be few gasps of shock. But this constant turnover of managers is getting pretty wearisome.

The reign of Trueman and Sellars has lasted just 147 days. Stuart McCall before them managed 314 days before being sacked, Gary Bowyer before him 336 days, David Hopkin 174 days, Michael Collins 78 days and Simon Grayson 86 days.

It’s almost too cruel to do this, but Phil Parkinson took charge of the Bantams for 1,757 days. Even McCall’s second spell, after Parkinson quit, lasted 597 days. The average tenure of a Bradford City manager since then is just 189 days. Or just over six months.

At that average rate, we’ll end up appointing 10 different managers over the same timeframe that Parkinson delivered such amazing success.

It’s a shocking state of affairs.

Just like McCall last December, Bowyer last February, Hopkin the year before and Collins and Grayson the year before that, there are many good reasons why Trueman and Sellars had to be stood down. The managerial pair performed heroics lifting the Bantams clear of the relegation zone, but the end of season collapse in form has been utterly dismal. The pair looked short of ideas of how to address the slump. They must have been as desperate as anyone for the season to end, as it became a damage limitation exercise.

In a matter of weeks, they’d seen the groundswell of warm wishes and high regard disappear, as a socially distant Bradford City fanbase turned on them. Frustration that an unexpected shot at the play offs wasn’t taken has been understandably high. And even though Trueman and Sellars will argue, with some justification, that the late hopes of a promotion push represented an overachievement on their initial remit, the rise of Bolton from a similarly poor league position showed what had been possible.

Trueman and Sellars deserve credit for a lot of things. When they took charge the Bantams last December, the team had lost six games in a row and the only reason they weren’t in the relegation zone was because of a slightly less worse goal difference. Trueman and Sellars instantly introduced a more pragmatic approach, setting City up so they were hard to break down. The rot was stopped with a 1-1 draw at Crawley, where the home side were restricted to zero shots on target (their goal courtesy of Harry Pritchard heading into his own net).

That draw proved a springboard to three straight victories where City defended deep; the back four protected brilliantly by the deployment of two holding midfielders in Levi Sutton and Elliot Watt. City were clinical in front of goal, and by the turn of the year the Bantams had climbed five places up the table and increased the gap on the bottom two to a healthy seven points. The hunt for an external manager was put on hold, as they went from caretakers to interim.

After a long break due to bad weather and Covid outbreaks hitting opposition sides, City carried on where they left off. A draw at eventually promoted Cambridge, followed by back to back wins over relegation rivals Southend and Barrow. Trueman and Sellars suffered a first defeat at Exeter, but the team responded with five straight wins. Midway through that brilliant run Sparks appointed them on 15-month deals.

The fifth win in that run – a 1-0 success over Mansfield – took City to 10th and just three points off the play offs, with 16 games to go. The Bantams failed to push on, going winless in five. But when they bounced back to pick up 10 points from a possible 12, the gap to the play offs was again three points. Relegation concerns were over, it was surely the opportunity go for it.

That was the point where it all went wrong. City were surprisingly beaten 2-0 at home to the club, Crawley, who Trueman and Sellars’ adventure had begun against. They never recovered from an uninspiring night, spiralling to defeats against Harrogate, Tranmere, Port Vale, Salford and Morecambe. A dismal 0-0 draw at home to Scunthorpe was no better.

The problem for Trueman and Sellars was the limitations of their management style had become painfully clear. Trueman and Sellars’ 4-2-3-1 was absolutely the perfect anecdote in rescuing the club from relegation trouble when they took over. When confidence was low and it needed everyone to dig deep, playing such a defensive, safety first style of football made sense and worked well.

But they couldn’t build on that. They couldn’t find a way to let the handbrake off, take more risk and demonstrate some flair. City never became a team that opposition sides would have worried about containing. And it didn’t take long for other managers to work out how to counter the 4-2-3-1.

When in January and February the wins kept coming, the cautious style of football was justified by the results. Even though – as we at WOAP regularly highlighted – the underlying facts and figures behind performances suggested the run was not sustainable. Trueman and Sellars had tried to over-manage the fine margins by making sure City didn’t concede many chances, even to the detriment that the team didn’t create much at the other end.

They relied on the forward players being clinical at taking the limited opportunities on goal that occurred, something which – thanks to the form of Andy Cook in particular – proved successful for a time. After the Harrogate defeat, Mark Trueman talked about how the chances they created a few weeks ago had been going in but now they weren’t. But when you create so few chances, you can’t afford a bit of bad luck.

Ultimately, when more was needed, when greater risk could be afforded to be taken to achieve bigger rewards, Trueman and Sellars lacked the ability and confidence to take the team forwards. There is some argument to say that they didn’t have the players needed to play a more expansive way. But can the pair really say they got the most out of the squad at their disposal?

It’s been a time when defensive players have fared better – Paudie and Anthony O’Connor, Niall Canavan, Levi Sutton, Connor Wood, Elliot Watt (playing deep) and Finn Cousin-Dawson – but aside from Callum Cooke and Andy Cook, which forward players have done well?

Charles Vernam has admitted himself that City are yet to see the best of him, but in his defence he has not played in the wide left position where he did so well at Grimsby Town. Oli Crankshaw has struggled to make an impact, and Gareth Evans and Billy Clarke have not fitted into the roles they were asked to play in the system. Danny Rowe decided he’d prefer to play non league football.

In 23 of the 30 matches the pair have been in charge, City have scored just one goal or failed to score.  

Relieving Trueman and Sellars of their duties now is a difficult one. But they’ve not shown an aptitude to improve City beyond a very basic, defensive style of football. And it hasn’t been entertaining to watch. The danger of keeping them on was not that they wouldn’t try to address this over the summer, but that a further lack of success would result in a manager change by autumn anyway, with the possibility of another season wasted.

It’s a really tough call. But weighing all things up, it is the right one.

Nevertheless, we cannot go on like this. City’s reputation in the game can hardly be enhanced by this constant turnover of managers. Trueman and Sellars were given 15-month deals, but only got to serve three months of it. McCall was offered a contract extension, but was sacked three weeks later.

It doesn’t look great, and if you’re an out of work manager looking for your next club, what reason is there to go to Valley Parade if you can afford to be choosy, when the last six managers the club has employed didn’t even last 12 months?

This is not a criticism of Sparks, as the problem pre-dates even his arrival at the club three years ago. Indeed, the following chart illustrates just what a historic issue this is at Bradford City. It shows the length of time each Bradford City manager stayed in the job since World War II, with the red line indicating which managers lasted more than three years (above the red line).

More recently, Phil Parkinson is the only manager – since Trevor Cherry left in 1987 – to have reached the three-year mark as City boss.

If City were a habitually successful club, like a Watford or Swansea, such turnover wouldn’t be a problem. But it’s hard to look at these charts and see anything but a list of mistakes that the owner/chairman/CEO of the day thought could be fixed by changing managers, only for that to not prove the case more often than not. 13 managers in 17 years of languishing in the bottom two divisions. A lot of dice rolling with little reward.

The phrasing of the statement announcing Trueman and Sellar stepping down strongly suggests a replacement is waiting in the wings. And that is great news of course. The club can hardly risk a repeat of the summer of 2018, where a search for a new manager took weeks and became farcical. The excitement that the new guy should hopefully generate will be a big boost going into the close season, when there are season tickets to sell to a demoralised fanbase.

But the bigger issue remains. At Bradford City, we need to find a long-term plan to revive this football club. And it has to be a plan we are prepared to stick to, even if there are short-term bumps in the road. We cannot keep going down this road of sacking managers and starting all over again. We’ve got to make the right decisions, and be confident they are the right decisions even during difficult moments.

There will be many measurements to gauge how successful Sparks and Bradford City prove with this summer’s plans to enhance the club – not least the league position in May 2022. But if, in 12 months, the manager who will be shortly unveiled is also still at Valley Parade, it will suggest – more than anything else – that we found a plan we had the conviction to stand by.

Categories: Opinion

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21 replies

  1. In my view we should be critical of Sparks. He’s made 2 of the strangest appointments/contract extensions I’ve ever had the misfortune to witness. I’d expect to face some serious scrutiny. 🤔

    • Agree….you do have to question those decisions to extend / award them in the first place. Stuart’s you can accept as a first one…..but these 2 shouldn’t have been given 18mths – they should have been given til end of season then reviewed.

      Lets hope he now learns from that and doesn’t go down Boris Johnson’s route of making the same mistake 3 or 4 times!

    • I think that’s a bit harsh.

      With retrospect, it’s easy to point out mistakes, but at the time he made them permanent manager, they’d lifted us from the foot of the table, we’d just beaten Cheltenham on their own patch (and looked good in doing so), and we were within sight of automatic promotion – let alone the play offs.

      EVERYONE, city fans, myself included, football pundits, and most people that were witnessing the transformation were all calling for them to be given the job full-time, so it’s what most of us would have done.

      However, the final few games have been an eye-opener.

      Even when we were doing well, the games were difficult to watch and quite boring.

      But I definitely don’t blame Sparks.

      I only hope we’re looking to bring Mark Cooper in so we get to watch entertaining attacking football.

      • the same mark cooper who’s teams dive, play act and generally cheat?

        no thanks, he’s almost as bad as steve evans on that score!!

      • Agree with Andrew, hindsight is a wonderful thing, and lets face it us fans change our minds depending on what happens on that most immediate sats results. I know Ryan gave them 15 months contract, but if he came out and said we have to stick with them as we have to stick to the contract come what may, can you imagine the reaction then.

      • There was a lot of clamour for the pair to be given permanent deals.

        I was all for just keeping the status quo (interim) until the end of the season and then assess where to go from there.

        Unfortunately too many people wanted the change sooner – and those same people then had the cheek to moan bout them being made permanent when results went south.

        City fans, whichever way the cookie crumbles, we’re not happy unless we can have a good moan!

  2. Definitely the right call, and glad they’ve been offered the chance to stay on with the club potentially back in their old roles.

    Just need to get rid of these under achieving players now who are out of contract. They also need to hang their heads in shame and take some of the blame for both Stuart’s sacking and that of MT&CS.

    • The position of T&S became untenable. Absolutely the correct decision on the showing of the last 10 games.

      After the pragmatic and absolute necessity of the 4321system the pair never kicked on and really struggled to break the team out of the straight jacket they shackled the players with. The duo just didn’t have the experience of will to change direction and gain the necessary results to move forward positively into a new season.

      The January window amongst the fanfare has ultimately been very disappointing and the buying of a striker that was lazy and not a lone striker was probably another facet as to why T&S were not the right combination or a blueprint for moving the club forward. RS will have been worried about the sale of STs given the end of season collapse.

      It seems like RS knows his man and with 14 players out of contract the new manager will have an opportunity to clear the decks and start the process from virtually scratch. Whether this will be successful only time will tell but there was really no other option.

      I Really hope whoever comes in can turn the clubs fortunes around and stop this abysmal 4 year slide into this depressing abyss.

  3. Don’t need statistical analysis to know that the right decision – indeed the only right-minded decision – has been made. The argument that we have sacked too many managers so we must keep the present two was fallacious. The most recently successful one had a relatively long tenure and left of his own accord. Lower league teams do get through a lot of managers: it is part of the territory. Had Trueman and Sellars been successful, they would have stayed. Had they been heroic failures, unluckily missing the playoffs having given it everything, they would have stayed. But as abject failures in adapting to new circumstances and embracing unexpected opportunities, they had to go. That is the nature of football, one of the reasons managers are relatively well paid even at our level. As ever, it’s a case of the manager is gone: hail to the manager. The next one will be anointed soon, by the looks of it. I see there is no book open as I write or I would be bunging a fiver on Richie Wellens. Here we go again.

  4. Yes right decision. Sparks is culpable in the way he went about things. Awarding Stuart a contract extension then sacking him. Same with Connor and Sellars. Like these, Spacks also lacks experience. He seems to me the type that likes to be liked and popular. I do believe he has the club in his heart and wants the best. All I can say or hope for is 3rd time lucky. The new manager needs to have experience and the ability to get the best out of his team. Also needs to have a decent record for success and motivational. He has obviously been approached and accepted. This suggests that this has being going on behind doors for some time.
    I am glad they were offered their old job back. I also believe that they should have some compensation. Afterall they were only 3 months into their contract. The job offer would be on lesser terms.
    Finally, let us hope that the incumbent can achieve what has been lacking for a number of years SUCCESS.

  5. Obviously are current turnover of managers is far from a good thing and is not the right way to progress.
    However, I would like to point out, and to be honest I’m surprised you have overlooked it, that Hopkin was not sacked he walked also neither was Grayson he was hired to the end of the season and didn’t fancy taking things further because of Rahic.
    Also Collins was never a manager in the first place and his appointment was again down to the fact that no decent manager wanted to work for Rahic.
    So the stats can be a bit misleading.

  6. Correct decision. It is also clear that the managerial merry go round needs to stop. I actually think this is a strong decision from Ryan Sparks. He’s rewarded the lads with a contract and then acted when it’s clear they are not ready for the role. It felt to me that the easy decision would have been to do nothing and end up changing managers in the autumn with another season wasted.
    To make the change shows he’s not afraid to make difficult decisions. So fair play.
    I also thought the club statement was class from all parties.
    We owe Mark and Connor a huge debt of gratitude.
    The next appointment needs to be the right one. Huge summer ahead.

  7. Right call at the right time. Ryan Sparks mistake was giving them a contract past the end of the season. That may have been a lack of experience or getting caught up in the hyperbole of fans who were clamouring for them to be offered contracts whilst still only ‘interim’.
    But once again Ryan has shown he’s not afraid to make big calls. He’s clearly been preparing for their demotion judging by the recruitment of their replacement and I suspect T&S knew this from the interview in the T&A last week in which they pointed out what they had been appointed to do and what they’d achieved – namely avoid relegation.
    They were a victim of their own success. When fears turned to optimism of the play offs they couldn’t deliver and the dismal run we’ve endured of late turned fans against them.
    Its a shame its ended this way. I hope they stay at the club because they have talents and it would be a shame for us to lose that talent due to inexperience.

  8. I dont think that T&S ever fully understood their role in respect of entertaining the fans.
    Maybe its their background but in my mind we needed to push on and have a go at the play offs once safe.
    What was to lose?
    If they reached the play offs then great, they would have cemented their popularity, even if we had not gone up.
    By playing the negative boring stuff which in the last 7 games brought no reward they alienated themselves from the fans.
    I am still fuming that we did not chase a place in the play offs.
    We had games in hand a momentum.
    Some said they would have to win every game and there was no margn for error.
    In the end less than 14 points or four wins sand a couple of draws would have done it. Maybe not even that as we could have been taking points of those who finished above us.
    And why take Wood off with minutes remaining of the the last match when he had played every minute of the season?
    Just like most of the games towards the end

    • the Wood sub was bizarre and left a sour taste for me. It achieved nothing other than to spoil his record. If they didn’t know they were going it was a potential peeving off of the team if they knew then it was somewhat spiteful. Wood not been on the team starting team sheet prior to the game with the team initially was very strange and unprofessional and smacks of perhaps player power over changing this? Maybe? Just pure speculation but quite unusual when its not for an injury in warm up

    • Totally agree we never had to win all of those last 10 games always said W6 D2 L2 would have got the points we required.
      In life and football opportunities present themselves and you have to go for them, if you don’t manage it fair enough you’ve tried but don’t ignore them.
      Sadly to their cost T&S did the latter, they need to reflect on this and use this experience in a positive way learn from it and next time an opportunity comes don’t pass it by.

  9. The contract for Trueman and Sellars was welcomed by the vast majority of fans. As for McCall he was trying everything to give him a chance to turn it round
    Where I fault him is giving in to pressure to sack the pair now they didn’t deserve it

    • I think you’re in the minority there Paul. Most fans believe it’s the right call.
      It’s maybe not so much the defeats but the manor of them that was cause for concern.
      Couple this with some naive comments in the press post match that were at odds with we’d witnessed showed the pair were floundering – something Ryan alluded to in his interview on Radio Leeds last night.

  10. Ryan Sparks sounded plausible on Radio Leeds last night. He has handled a difficult situation very well.

  11. We simply didn’t have the players to make a successful promotion push and comparing us to Bolton is laughable. They were in a false position at that time and proved it by the end of the season. The fact we got away with a draw against them at VP was just good fortune on city’s part. When Trueman and sellers took over and the points started to accumulate, I said a top ten finish would be a good return given there starting position. The fact we didn’t manage that in the end more than justifies moving them to one side.
    Trueman and sellers fulfilled their remit and I thank them for that. Stability is the key, delivered by a manger who can look beyond the first team, I do hope we’ve got a five year plan.

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